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Winning Formula

by Alain Poupart / Florida Panthers
Forward Jonathan Huberdeau scores the lone goal in the shootout Tuesday night to give the Panthers a 3-2 victory over the Canucks.

Now that’s more like it.

It’s taken longer than the team or their fans would have liked, but the Panthers have gotten on a little bit of a roll here lately. As has been pointed out already, the 3-2 shootout victory against the Canucks on Tuesday night was Florida’s first in Vancouver since the inaugural season of 1993-94.

More importantly, it gave the Panthers their first winning streak of the season and gave them three victories in their last four outings.

And let’s not forget that there was a certain degree of difficulty involved in those three wins. The three victories came against Anaheim, which took a five-game winning streak to the BB&T Center last week; Colorado, one of the surprise teams in the NHL early this season; and Vancouver, a perennial power in the Western Conference.

Put simply, the way the Panthers have been playing lately, they can compete with and beat any team in the league on a given night. That’s nothing new, considering the strong efforts they put forth earlier this season in tough losses against the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals.

The difference now is that the Panthers are getting rewarded for their efforts.

The Panthers have been winning lately thanks to some timely goals — Brad Boyes’ game-winner against Anaheim and Shawn Matthias’ equalizer in the third period at Vancouver come to mind — stellar goaltending from Tim Thomas and some production from the power play.

It’s the exact formula that we thought the Panthers would need heading into the season to be able to make a run at the playoffs.

Since we’re barely past the quarter mark of the regular season, it’s still too early to be worrying about the playoffs, though. In truth, this is still the time for teams to establish themselves, and that’s just what the Panthers have been doing ever since Peter Horachek took over as interim head coach.

Even though the Panthers lost their first two games under their new coach, they played well enough against both the Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers to have won either or both of those games.

It just seemed a matter of time before good things started happening, and that has materialized.

The power play has come to life — Boyes scored on the power play against Vancouver, Campbell scored with the man advantage against Colorado on a night when Boyes scored a mere eight seconds after an Avalanche penalty and Tomas Kopecky scored two seconds after the end of another. Thomas has been tremendous since returning to action after being sidelined with a lower-body injury. And the overall effort by every player on the team seems to have become more consistent.

Coaching changes early in a season usually are made to shake up a team and get them going, and that’s apparently what has happened with the Panthers. The trade of veteran forward Kris Versteeg also was a significant move, but the players obviously have responded in a positive manner considering they have won both games since Versteeg and minor-league forward Philippe Lefebvre were sent to Chicago in exchange for big-bodied forward Jimmy Hayes and promising defenseman prospect Dylan Olsen.

The Panthers now have two games remaining on their five-game road trip before they come home for their traditional Thanksgiving week home stand, which this year includes the Flyers on Monday, the Rangers on Wednesday and the Penguins on Saturday. The last two games of the road trip will be against Calgary and Edmonton, who happen to occupy the last two places in the Western Conference standings.

The opponent these days isn’t nearly as important for the Panthers as continuing to play the way they have over the past 10 days.

Simply put, they have become the team we had hoped to see from the start of the season.

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